An essential element of learning to fly is acquiring the equipment and tools that enable pilots to perform at their peak. In flight training, before we even climbed into our aircraft, we put on our flight gear.

Navy jet flight gear includes a flight suit, steel-toed flight boots, a “G suit”*, helmet, oxygen mask, and integrated torso harness that straps us into our aircraft, into our ejection seat, and into our parachute. This specialized “seat belt” also includes carefully selected survival gear, such as a life jacket, flashlight, radio, shroud cutter, mirror, whistle, water, day/night flares, and during combat missions, a pistol. Putting on flight gear is a bit overwhelming at first—a bit claustrophobic in fact—but eventually it became like a second skin. Not only does our gear feel a part of us, but its use became second nature as well, which is extremely important.

Every pilot is keenly aware of the value of their flight gear. Flight gear supports us during the flight, and in the extreme case of having to eject from the aircraft, supports us for twenty-four hours of survival either on the ground or in the water. A few of my friends have ejected, and everyone, but one, survived.

Although we may not always be aware of it, there is “gear” for our professional lives—the equipment and tools (both tangible and intangible) that support us and help us to perform at our best.

My friend Anna, an architect on large-scale construction projects, and I were speaking about “gearing up” for meetings and presentations. I asked her how she prepares. “When I give a key presentation, I wear four-inch heels,” she said. “I work in a pre-dominantly male environment. When I wear heels, I can look most men in the eye.” She went on to say, “I also create a larger presence by taking up a lot of physical space at a table.” Well-known business executive and former chief operating officer of Facebook Sheryl Sandburg talks about taking your seat at the table. Well… Anna takes two.

What equipment and tools might you carry with you in your career?

Flight suit—Do you wear clothes that are appropriate for the job and make you feel confident? Do you stand out for the right reasons? When I graduated from Naval Postgraduate School, the wife of one of my colleagues commented on seeing me at graduation. “As you walked across the stage, you looked different than the others. Your dress uniform fit perfectly; you walked with confidence; I knew it was you.”  What makes you stand out?

Steel-toed boots—What protects you from “getting your toes stepped on?” Perhaps a healthy sense of humor or solid dose of self-assurance? Or something that helps you kick a little a$$?

Oxygen mask—Who or what sustains you and keeps you going when times get tough?

Ejection seat—Do you have an “escape plan?” Have you identified your next goal for when it’s time to move on to the next phase of your career?

Radio—Do you have exceptional communication and inter- personal skills?

Life jacket—Do you have a mentor or support system?

Whether you refer to your “gear” as a toolbox, a backpack, or something else, it is critically important to gather the tools you need to be successful. They must be readily accessible at a moment’s notice to handle situations as they arise.

As a leader, how do you GEAR UP? Take a quick inventory of your gear. What is the best gear you own? Is it in good working order or do you need a bit of a brush up – new clothing or perhaps professional leadership development? Drop me a line and let me know what is working or not working for you. Then, let’s develop a plan.

Gear up and Fly high!


Want to know more of my story and what it means to serve? Check out my book: Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life’s Turbulence and Learning to Fly High.

* A “G suit” or more specifically, an antigravity suit, is worn by aviators to counteract the pooling of blood that occurs in the lower extremities when under significant “g-forces” and to keep blood flowing to the brain, preventing loss of consciousness.

Flight Gear
Flight Gear, photo by Barbara Bell